Independent Lens: Season 5, Episode 16

Jimmy Scott: If You Only Knew (22 Jul. 2004)

TV Episode  |   |  Documentary
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Ratings: 8.1/10 from 41 users  
Reviews: 3 user | 1 critic

An intimate portrait of 76-year-old jazz vocal legend Jimmy Scott. The film explores Scott's odyssey of loss and redemption through reminiscence, song, and lush Japanese travelogue.


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Title: Jimmy Scott: If You Only Knew (22 Jul 2004)

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Episode credited cast:
Dwayne Cook Broadnax ...
Himself (drums)
Herself - Host
Michael Kanan ...
David Ritz ...
Justin Robinson ...
Jimmy Scott ...
Grady Tate ...


An intimate portrait of 76-year-old jazz vocal legend Jimmy Scott. The film explores Scott's odyssey of loss and redemption through reminiscence, song, and lush Japanese travelogue.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis





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Release Date:

22 July 2004 (USA)  »

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Technical Specs


| (Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema)

Sound Mix:


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Did You Know?


Day by Day
Written by Axel Stordahl, Sammy Cahn and Paul Weston
Performed by Jimmy Scott
courtesy of Atlantic Records
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User Reviews

And you thought YOU HAD PROBLEMS. A tragedy only Tolstoy, or Shakespeare could write.
18 March 2004 | by (cherry hill, nj) – See all my reviews

I watched this film with great anticipation after hearing Jimmy's records on the Temple U. jazz and classical station. His rendition of "For Once In My Life" caught me off guard. It's been done to death as a "hip" , "swingin" "groove" tune, and I must say I had OD'd on the million renditions (including mine at bar mitzvahs, oy vey!) Here's Jimmy doing it in a patented Scott slow tempo, and I'm kvelling(digging it to the max), and I say, "Who the hell is this, and what the hell is he doing?" Everyone who has tried to sing, knows that singing this slow is like running the hundred yard dash in a pool of maple's only for the bravest, and the toughest. Gradually I found out the story of Jimmy's life. A virtually fatherless family, with ten children. The mother killed by an auto, while taking one of the girls to school. Foster homes, the kids split up. Jimmy's body stopped growing before puberty. Jimmy finally getting a gig with Lionell Hampton. Jimmy having a big hit with "Everybody Is Somebody's Fool", and all the record label says is "Lionel Hampton's Orch." with, are you ready, "Vocalist". Making an incredible record with the supervision of Ray Charles, and having it suppressed, because some jerk in New York said he had Jimmy "under contract". Years of obscurity while rock reigned supreme. Diswasher, hotel clerk, geriatric home attendant. Four failed marriages.... Had enough?.. Even if this was fiction you wouldn't believe it. And then somebody calls a radio station in Newark, NJ, and says, "Why don't you play Jimmy Scott's records?" "Oh he's dead", the DJ says. "No he isn't", says Jimmy's friend, the caller. "Well you bring me the living Jimmy Scott, and I'll put him on this station". Jimmy was on the phone for I think 24 hours with the phone lines having nervous breakdowns. The career restarts, and the incredible voice is back in action. Hollywood stars and rock mavens are taken aback and wiped out by this voice. Nowhere in this film did I hear the words heroin, addiction, breakdown, rehab. Amazing. I did hear of Jimmy's drinking, but I ask you, ISN'T HE ENTITLED? One thing puzzled me about the film. During the lean years, producer Joel Dorn, a major, major jazz force, recorded Jimmy in an album called "The Source". It was mentioned on the film, as was Joel, but where was Joel? I heard him do an entire evening on a Judy Garland album, and the man is most engaging, and delightful. I missed his input. David Ritz, Jimmy's biographer, was most informative, and added a lot. Two things completely blew my mind on the film. The opening lines to the tunes, "Home", and "If You Only Knew", the title song of the film. We've heard the line, "When shadows fall", so many times by so many corny singers and so many corny bands, the tune had become a joke, like "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody" became a joke, because it accompanied strippers. But when Jimmy sang it, he reaches into your guts with a longing that will break your heart. And the way he cuts off the words, "If..". This is art,high art. I've watched the film about four times, hoping that some of Jimmy's musicality, and strength will rub off on me. Kudos to filmaker Matthew Buzzell, and THE MAN, THE MAIN MAN, MR. JIMMY SCOTT.

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